There is sometimes a misconception of why the Catholic Church canonizes her saints. Some believe that the Church canonizes saints to honour them for their works of charity, etc. However, that is not at all the real reason. Saints are now enjoying the beatific vision (i.e. seeing God face to face) and do not need nor want our praise. The real reason for the canonization of saints is because the Church wishes to present them as models and intercessors to the faithful.1 Therefore, it is for OUR welfare that the Church canonizes saints. If we wanted a quick answer to our question of whether a good Catholic can be wealthy, all we need to do is to find out if there were any wealthy people in the Church’s history who were canonized as saints.
Let’s remove the suspense! There indeed are saints who were wealthy! We will now take a look at a few examples.
St. Louis IX
St. Louis IX was the king of France from 1226-1270. From one perspective, he was much like other kings. He fought in a couple of the Crusades and led a war against England. However, the reasons for his canonization were of another nature. He was a promoter of peace and preferred resolving conflicts rather than fighting wars. He protected the clergy against oppression from the barons. He spent many hours in prayer, penance and fasting. He also loved the poor and performed many works of charity, including feeding the needy, washing their feet, attending to lepers, and founding hospitals.
Although he remained king and presumably lived in a comfortable palace until his death, his life was dedicated to God and His people. For this reason, he was made a saint by the Church.
St. Katharine Drexel
St. Katharine Drexel is the second American-born person to be canonized as saint (after St. Elizabeth Seton). She was born into a very rich and prominent family. However, after attending to her stepmother’s terminal illness for three years, she experienced a deep conversion and began living a life of voluntary poverty. She became a nun and devoted her life to the betterment of American natives and visible minorities. She founded many schools and mission centres. By the end of her life, she had used $20 million in her work.
St. Thomas More
St. Thomas More was the Lord Chancellor of England during Henry VIII’s reign. He lived a life typical for a wealthy chancellor and served the king until Henry’s infamous divorce of Catherine of Aragon. St. Thomas was not able to acknowledge the king’s divorce nor his claim of supremacy over the Church of England, and resigned from his chancellorship. Three years later, he was tried and was found guilty of treason and was beheaded. Before his death, he told the crowd before him that he was “the King’s good servant, but God’s first.” His wealth meant nothing to him if he were forced to turn his back on God.
The three saints that we’ve looked at were very rich, probably richer than most of us ever will be. However, there is one common theme amongst the three of them. Their wealth was not the most important thing in their lives; God was. They did not despise their wealth, and even used it for their causes, but when time came for a decision between their wealth and God, they would always choose God first.
So, we should model after these wealthy saints. It is alright to gain wealth, and even quite acceptable to live a comfortable life. However, God always comes first. When our wealth becomes an obstacle between God and ourselves or when it leads us to sin, we must forfeit our wealth and change our way of life. Therefore, we must remain vigilant as our wealth grows with the passage of time. We must remain faithful to the Lord and carry out His will, whether that be helping the poor, attending to the sick, or other works of charity.